A favorite artist. Her work evokes a playfulness and beauty...
Read below a recent interview we had with this 4th generation Navajo ladysmith.
Christine: Who taught you to make jewelry?
Leigha: My parents taught me little and easy things like cutting bezels for stones and setting the stones. My Aunt Brenda Jimenez taught me the rest.
Christine: Was Learning Fun
Leigha: In the beginning as a child, I was forced to help finish the jewelry. So that wasn't fun for me. Even if we got rewarded. I would be sick in the back seat because I was setting stones on the way to turn in our work before the place closed. Parents promised a good place to eat and toys if we helped finish. LOL. Now I'm sick and can't eat so it's my fault we ended up just getting McDonalds or any fast food. It's really a funny story. But we (my siblings and I) helped our parents finish orders every week. After high school i got a job at Nakai Trading as a stone setter where Brenda, my Aunt was the silversmith. Then she started asking me to help her with little things from there I just learned and picked up quick. That's when it got fun for me.
Christine: Wow, How old were you when you helped your parents?
Leigha: I started helping them when i was around 9 years old.
Christine: How many generations before you made jewelry?
Leigha: From what my parents told me i'm the fourth generation silversmith. They don't know if there great grand parents did or not.
Christine: That's amazing? Who's your favorite silversmith currently?
Leigha: My favorite artist has always been my Aunt Brenda Jimenez. I've seen her make wonders. She would just build up with out trying to think of how and what she wanted. Brenda was never scared to fix or try to make something someone wanted. Her pieces always came out better than we thought it would. From her I got the confidence in my self to not be scared of trying new things. She showed me tricks and easier ways to make my pieces look better.
Christine: Hmmm, and what would you say is one of your master creations?
Leigha: I don't have a favorite, but I love the animal and butterfly stuff. I love making those.
Tommy Singer (born 1940; death May 31, 2014) was a Navajo silversmith who specialized in chip-inlay jewelry. He died in a motorcycle accident on May 31, 2014. His inlaid turquoise, coral, and silver pieces incorporated traditional Navajo designs. Singer gained acclaim as the originator of the chip inlay design which he developed in the 1970s.
He grew up on the Navajo Reservation and was taught silversmithing by his father at the age of seven. In the 1960s he invented the "chip-inlay" technique of using turquoise or coral chips in this silverwork. This technique has become widespread in his community. He also used stamps and work in overlay.
When asked about his work, Singer said,"Every piece is made with the various meanings from my traditional ways - the Navajo way of living. My father was a silversmith, too. He taught me, and wanted me to continue this trade. It was my father's dream that I learn to silversmith so that I could continue his beliefs."
After his death, his wife, Rosita (Rose), has continued to create jewelry using designs Singer created prior to his passing. These items are stamped with "T&R Singer."
Willie A. Yazzie was born at Chinle, Arizona in 1928. His son says he learned silverwork at Dean Kirk’s trading post in Manuelito in the early 1950s, and created his touchmark (or hallmark) no later than 1960, and after that time his pieces made at Dean Kirk’s would have included his gourd dipper hallmark. His designs often incorporated animal figures such as roadrunners or Navajo designs including Yeis and Father Sky. He never added “tamp work,” or a textured pattern to the background designs.
Bracelet with appliqué swirl design made by Navajo silversmith Willie Yazzie for trader Dean Kirk.
In 1960 Ansel Hall, concessionaire at Mesa Verde National Park, was looking for a silversmith to demonstrate at the park during the summers months, Dean Kirk recommended Willie Yazzie and he was hired by Hall. Willie worked at Mesa Verde in the summers from 1960 to 1983, except for 1965 when he was sick. Yazzie created a special hallmark to denote pieces he made at Mesa Verde. The mark depicts Square Tower House, a ruin within the park, and was included with his gourd dipper mark during the summers of 1960-1964 and 1966-1983.
This salt spoon was made by Willie Yazzie while he worked at Mesa Verde National Park during the summers of 1960-1983, as indicated by the hallmarks on the back. Courtesy Bille Hougart.
Hallmarks on the back of the salt spoon above by Willie Yazzie includes his medicine dipper touchmark and the Square Tower House mark for work made at Mesa Verde National Park. Courtesy Bille Hougart.
Another image of Willie Yazzie’s gourd dipper hallmark with the Square Tower House mark for work made at Mesa Verde National Park. Courtesy Bille Hougart.
Willie A. Yazzie died in 1999, but his family, including his widow, daughter and Willie Jr continue the tradition of Willie’s overlay work. Willie Jr said that his sister has most of their father’s tools and stamps, and that she still uses the gourd dipper mark. Willie uses mostly his initials as his hallmark, but doesn’t do much silverwork anymore, he is retired from the National Park Service where he was a ranger at Canyon de Chelly. Willie, who lives in Chinle, said his sons do a little silversmithing, but that they are busy and don’t have much time for it.
ALBERT JAKE Born in 1959 on the Zuni Pueblo, Albert Jake now resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico with his wife and two daughters. Albert learned the art of silver-smithing from his parents and began making jewelry in 1987. He specializes in traditional set stones and cluster jewelry with intricate stamp work in the old style of the 1930's/40's.